Framed behind the scenes

Renowned photographer Yossi Zwecker has captured well known artists as part of this year’s Yamei Zemer Festival.

BERRY SAKHAROV 370 (photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)
(photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)
In this postmodern world, entertainment and culture have long since taken on a wider sensorial ethos. That suits Yossi Zwecker down to the ground, and certainly fits the bill for this year’s Yamei Zemer Festival, which takes place at the Holon Theater from Sunday to Wednesday.
The 46-year-old Hadera-born Zwecker will offer patrons an intriguing and, hopefully, pleasing esthetic entry to the festival’s events with his exhibition of photographs, that will adorn the theater lobby. The prints show well known artists, some of whom will perform at the festival, at intimate moments and in surprising situations. There is, for example, a delightful definitively unrigged shot of Ninet Tayeb being congratulated by Shlomi Shaban backstage after a Tayeb gig. Both Tayeb and Shaban are on the Yamei Zemer roster next week.
Zwecker has a natural affinity with the musical world.
“I have played music from the age of three,” says the photographer. “I play every day – keyboards, piano and synthesizer. I actually used to perform professionally, mostly jazz.”
However, all that didn’t help much when it came to the crunch, although, had the IDF been a mite more generous Zwecker might today be earning his crust from playing with other musicians rather than from photographing them.
“I tried to get into an army band but I was rejected,” he says, adding that there were no hard feelings.
“They were right to turn me down. I was self-taught and when I saw all the graduates of Thelma Yellin [arts and music high school] coming to the audition I realized they were streets ahead of me.”
But it transpired that Zwecker’s loss was also Zwecker’s gain.
“They didn’t accept me as a musician, but they did take me on as an army photographer.”
That was a dream come true, and Zwecker’s ascent along the photographic learning curve accelerated incrementally.
“That was the best possible training ground for me,” he recalls. “I had free rein of a laboratory, all the raw materials and equipment I needed – there was no limit on the printing paper I had at my disposal, and I could experiment as much as I wanted.”
Naturally, the fresh recruit had accrued a track record in snapping shots before the IDF got to him.
“I was an enthused amateur as a kid and I enrolled in a special science course for youth,” he recalls.
But this was far from just taking pretty pictures of landscapes or catching spontaneous shots on the streets of Tel Aviv.
“I took a course in medical photography,” proffers Zwecker surprisingly – and we’re not talking X-rays here.
“Once a week I’d go by bus to Tel Aviv, to take pictures of operations and other medical procedures.”
That must have been something of an ordeal for a teenager. It’s not every youngster who can take staring into human gore and keep their finger steady on a camera button. Young Zwecker, it seems, was unfazed and determined to further his photographic skills.
“It didn’t bother me. That was also the only way I could do something in photography at the time, so I went for it. If there had been an option to do documentary photography I would have been delighted, but the medical stuff was the only choice I had. I learned a lot of technique from it, which later came in handy.”
EVEN SO, Zwecker had to prove to the military authorities he could produce the goods, and he came through the test with flying colors.
“They gave me a camera and three rolls of film, and told me to take the train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and back, and take pictures on the train,” he recalls.
Zwecker is, by his own admission, a straight shooter.
“They said ‘on the train,’ not ‘from the train’ and, luckily, there was a very boisterous bunch of Bnei Akiva kids on the train and I just snapped away. I couldn’t miss.”
On his return, Zwecker handed the films over to the army for developing and a week later got the thumbs up to become a bona fide IDF photographer.
“Of course I was told what pictures to take, and where, and everything went through the censor but I learned a lot from that. Those three years prepared me for the next stage of my career.”
After demobilization, Zwecker joined the staff of the newly established, and now defunct, Hadashot daily newspaper and stayed with it throughout its nine-year lifetime.
“I am a very stable person and I stuck it out to the very end of the paper, even though there were clear warning signs that things were not going well,” says Zwecker. “Hadashot was a great springboard for people who worked there, and for me too.”
Zwecker has obviously made a habit of being in the right place at the right time and, as Hadashot closed, cable TV started taking off here and he became a busy stills photographer for all sorts of programs and series. That led Zwecker straight into the world of theater and opera, and also to the subjects of his Yamei Zemer exhibition.
He takes pictures of productions by the Cameri Theater and Beersheba Theater, and is also the house photographer of the Israeli Opera. The latter role gives him easy access to behind-the-scenes shots, and one such, of Berry Sakharov warming up for a concert at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv, is a delightful item of the show at the Holon Theater.
Zwecker believes in a patently non-tabloid, “softly, softly” approach.
“I came across a lot of musicians, and photographed them, at all sorts of festivals and concerts, and they gradually came to know me and trust me. That’s when I realized I could become invisible to them and take pictures of them that they wouldn’t otherwise allow. I realized the artists were the opposite of their [on]-stage glittering image and that I had a duty to show the public this side of the artists too. The photographs help the public to get to know the person behind the artist.”
The Yamei Zemer exhibition should help with that too.
For more information about the Yamei Zemer Festival: (03) 502-3001-3 and